Fulton County health department to be run by the state

The top leadership of Fulton County’s health department will be absorbed into the state’s department by next summer, following the passage of a bill that removes the option for counties to have their own boards of health.

The bill, HB 885, is intended to increase cooperation between Fulton and the state following a series of health-related missteps. Two years ago, there was a tuberculosis outbreak in the county, and last year, the county revealed it had not been spending all the grant money it had received to combat HIV. Fulton’s HIV rate is among the worst in the country.

The bill passed the Senate Thursday by a 35-15 vote. Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said the point was to move the county department closer to the state. A handful of high-ranking workers will become state employees, though the rest will remain with the county.

Later, the updated version was approved by the House, 161-0.

The bill goes to the governor’s desk to be signed.

In objecting to the bill, Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said the change was “another in a long line of anti-Fulton County legislation.”

He said the problems Fulton was having were related to personnel issues, and that the department’s leadership had changed. Kathleen E. Toomey, a former country director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, started with the department this month.

“This kind of structural change is not needed,” Fort said. “I don’t know what the ulterior is, but I think this is the wrong way to go.”

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